Tag Archives: Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck

Analysis: Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s #MeToo Accusations And His Response

Oh, great…the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck is still making stops and picking up passengers. This time the target is Neil deGrasse Tyson who someone, actually several somones, decided was a powerful man too full of himself who needed to be taken down a peg or sixty, and thus he has been accused–Democratic Senators would say “credibly” accused—of two episodes of sexual harassment and one rape. This is no trivial matter for Tyson, whose carefully constructed image as the new Carl Sagan is now in real danger. So is his job, his celebrity, his reputation and perhaps his marriage.

The three accusations belong in two boxes. The two sexual harassment claims may bolster each other, for harassing is an attitude, a habit, and a form of ethics blindness. Real harassers never do it just once. Rape is something else entirely, and, obviously, far more serious, since it is a crime.

Let’s examine each of the accusations, and Tyson’s defense, which he issued in a long Facebook post over the weekend.

Accusation #1:

Workplace Harassment: Hostile work environment and Unwanted sexual advances (2018)

Ashley Watson, who began a job as Dr. Tyson’s assistant on “Cosmos” in the spring, told an interviewer that on one occasion he asked if she would like to come to his home to share a bottle of wine and “unwind for a couple of hours.” She agreed to come in for one glass, she said, believing that they were going to talk about work and her future assignments.

Once in the astronomer’s apartment, she said, he told her that “as human beings, we all need release,” and asked if there were any “releases” she needed.  (Oh-oh!) As she began to leave a while later,  and he asked if she would let her show her  a Native American handshake.” This required clasping their hands together , finding the pulse on the other person’s wrist, and looking into each other’s eyes. (Super Oh-oh, and also “You’ve got to be kidding me.”) She says that it made her uncomfortable, and she broke it off after about 10 seconds.

As she was again trying to leave, she says Dyson commented, “I want you to know that I want to hug you so bad right now, but I know that if I do I’ll just want more.”

Then, the next day, he told her, “You say you want to be a producer, but it’s always going to be an uphill battle for you because you’re too distracting.”

She says told a supervisor ,a line producer,about what had happened, and that she was quitting.. The supervisor, asked Watson if she wanted to file a complaint. She said no. The supervisor suggested she tell her co-workers that she was leaving because of a family emergency, which she did.

Comment: If accurately described, this is slam dunk sexual harassment. The apartment visit is an extension of the workplace. If it is a veiled “date,” Tyson has crossed a line because he is the woman’s supervisor with hiring and firing power. She cannot consent meaningfully. The release comment, depending on the delivery and context, is creepy and plausibly sexual in intent, unless he also said, “Me? I like to watch baseball. How about you?” The “Native American handshake” sounds like a nifty version of the old “shoulder rub.” Now there has been touching, and forced eye-gazing. Ew. The last comment at the apartment  is also a sexual advance, especially in context with the rest.

Tyson’s Explanation: Not good. In his Facebook post,  Tyson described the handshake as one he uses “in appreciation of people with whom I’ve developed new friendships.” He said that at work, Ms. Watson freely offered hugs, which he typically rejected, but that on a few occasions, he “clumsily declared, ‘If I hug you I might just want more.’”

“My intent was to express restrained but genuine affection,” he wrote.

He also wrote that . Watson had come into his office after the incident in his apartment and told him she had been “creeped out.” He said he had “apologized profusely” and that she had accepted the apology.

Comment: Tyson’s defense is essentially “I didn’t mean anything by it, she construed it the wrong way, and anyway, she accepted my apology.” Those are three excuses, none of which carried any weight in sexual harassment cases. It’s what the harasser did, and how the harassed felt about it. His apology and her acceptance of it, even if true, doesn’t undo the event. The encounter and his words  made her uncomfortable working with him, and objectively, anyone can see why. It is also interesting that Tyson doesn’t deny the “release” conversation, or his later comment about her being a distraction.

Since Watson had to leave her job, this episode could justify a lawsuit for sexual harassment.

Accusation #2: Sexual assault (2009)

Continue reading

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Sunday Ethics Rundown, 11/25/ 18: Liberty Games

Good Morning!

1. Baraboo hangover. Apparently the Wisconsin male high school students who gave a Nazi salute in an off-campus photo will not be punished. The superintendent overseeing Baraboo High, Lori Mueller of the Baraboo School District, said in the letter that the district was “not in a position to punish the students for their actions” because of their First Amendment rights. That’s right from a Constitutional viewpoint, and something good will come of the incident if it means that schools will stop punishing students for what they post on social on their own time. Here is the photo, in case you have forgotten…

The Times article sure is full of dissembling and nonsense, however. Peter Gust, the jerk who took and posted the photo, claims that it had been modified by “malevolent behavior on the part of some in society.” Sure. Jordan Blue, the boy in the upper right hand corner in the red tie, has embraced the role of ethics hero in the media, and is grandstanding and virtue signaling like mad, saying that he didn’t have time to leave the photo but that he didn’t raise his arm because “I knew what my morals were and it was not to salute something I didn’t firmly believe in.” Uh, that should be “firmly didn’t believe in,” Jordan. Then there is Brock Turkington, also  in the photograph, whose story is that  “As we were about to take that photo, the photographer instructed the boys to give a ‘high-sign.” The photographer instructed us to extend our arms out, no one knew what a ‘high-sign’ was. I asked another student next to me ‘What are we doing?’ He responded, ‘Stick your arm out.’” But that’s not a “high-sign.” That’s a Heil-sign.

2. I won a bet with myself! Cracked, the list and pop culture commentary website that evolved out of a cheap Mad Magazine rip-off from the Sixties, has a feature called “5 Laws From Other Countries (The USA Should Totally Steal).” Cracked is dominated by smug, if clever, social justice warriors, so I made a bet with myself that the list would contain  several concepts that were unconstitutional or that would advance the Left’s dream of perpetual power. (By the way, you can’t “steal” a law.) Sure enough, the tally was three out of five. I win!!! Continue reading

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Conclusion: If #MeToo Has No Integrity, Then It Is Doomed, And Deserves To Be

When the #MeToo movement emerged, the idea appeared to be that women (and men!) should speak out about sexual assault and sexual harassment, that powerful people should not feel entitled to take physical liberties with others, and that the culture needed to unequivocally and clearly condemn such conduct. Like most abstract concepts, it sounded good in theory, until—

—the question about what constituted sexual assault and harassment remained unanswered, because in so many cases it is a matter of perception and perspective.

—basic due process and the presumption of innocence were ignored, minimized, or jettisoned entirely, turning the accused into victims themselves

—Democrats sought to weaponized the movement politically, raising questions about motive, equal justice, and bias, and turning what should have been a bi-partisan movement into a cynical partisan one.

—The “women must be believed” mantra, discriminatory, unjust and ridiculous on its face, became part of the narrative and burst into open misandry and outrageous double standards.

Then the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck collided head-on with the Brett Kavanaugh Ethics Train Wreck, and here we are among ethical and cultural carnage.

Good job, everybody!

Now here’s where we are: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/1/2018: Of Boies, Drunks And Maryland…

Welcome, October!

In vaudeville terms, ethically speaking, this is like following a dog act…

1.  More on the strange legal ethics of David Boies. I am currently teaching the David Boies-Harvey Weinstein-New York Times fiasco as a main feature of all of my legal ethics seminars. (You can read the original post here) To its credit, the Times recently did a feature on Boies including his side of the story, which is, I found, not very mitigating. It also had this passage:

For his part, Mr. Weinstein showered Mr. Boies with invitations for opening-night parties and celebrity-studded charity events. The Weinstein Company put one of Mr. Boies’s daughters in the hit 2012 film “Silver Linings Playbook,” and also distributed a movie she produced, “Jane Got a Gun.” Along with the son of one of his law partners, Mr. Boies formed a film production company, which invested $5 million each in two Weinstein films, “Gold” and “The Upside,” both flops.

These entanglements may have colored Mr. Boies’s objectivity and judgment about Mr. Weinstein. But they weren’t, in the legal sense, a conflict of interest. They more closely aligned Mr. Boies’s interest with his client’s, which as far as the bar is concerned is a good thing.

I don’t know what bar the Times is talking about, because a lawyer “aligning” aclient’s interests with a client is not “a good thing,” but a condition that interferes with a lawyer’s independence and objectivity. It creates a personal conflict of interest that not only has to be waived by the client, but which the lawyer must reasonably believe will not affect his representation.

This comments to ABA Model Rule 1.8 make it very clear that significant gifts to clients (in this I would include gifts and benefits to family members) are ethically perilous at best:

Gifts to Lawyers

[6] A lawyer may accept a gift from a client, if the transaction meets general standards of fairness. For example, a simple gift such as a present given at a holiday or as a token of appreciation is permitted. If a client offers the lawyer a more substantial gift, paragraph (c) does not prohibit the lawyer from accepting it, although such a gift may be voidable by the client under the doctrine of undue influence, which treats client gifts as presumptively fraudulent. In any event, due to concerns about overreaching and imposition on clients, a lawyer may not suggest that a substantial gift be made to the lawyer or for the lawyer’s benefit, except where the lawyer is related to the client as set forth in paragraph (c).

Why don’t bars just declare lawyers accepting significant gifts and favors from clients as inherent conflicts of interest that reek of the appearance of impropriety?

The answer is that lawyers like getting gifts from rich clients, and lawyer associations tend not to interfere with things lawyers like to do. Continue reading

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Noonish Ethics Warm-Up. 9/27/18: “You’re The Bad Guys,” Cont.

Hi!

1. Unethical in its simplicity. An esteemed commenter insists, “Any witnesses who allege that Kavanaugh assaulted them should be allowed to testify.” This is either naive (incompetent) or intellectually dishonest. The Democratic Party’s stated objective is to delay a confirmation vote until after the Fall election, in the Hail Mary hope that the Senate will flip to them. There should be no question that the party, now thoroughly corrupted by a mindset holding that anything—lies, character assassination, perjury, misrepresentation, defiling of due process—is justified if it will protect abortion rights and its own power, would manipulate such a rule for political benefit, would recruit an endless series of politically motivated accusers if it could accomplish the objective of running out the clock.

The “any witnesses” flaw was amply demonstrated by yesterday’s fiasco. “New Kavanaugh allegations!” my late TV news screamed. By this morning, the entire story had fallen apart, and yet that ridiculous account (an anonymous woman claimed she was assaulted on a boat in Newport by a drunken “Brett” and friend, so an anonymous man beat them up) added to the designed false impression that multiple, verified, credible witnesses were confirming that Brett Kavanaugh is, as that same esteemed commenter has suggested, a serial sexual predator.

A witness whose claims are raised in a timely manner (that is before hearings begin allowing time for investigation and a response from the accused), whose account meets minimum standards of plausibility, whose accusation involves conduct relevant to a nominee’s fitness to serve, and whose story did not occur so long ago that verification or rebuttal is impossible, should be allowed to testify.

Those qualifications eliminate all of Kavanaugh’s accusers, as well as Anita Hill. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/20/2018: Trying To Get All Of The Brett Kavanaugh Nomination Ethics Train Wreck—Or Is It The Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck?— Debris Cleared So I Can Write About Something Else [UPDATED]

Good Morning!

[Actually, it’s late at night. Somehow today’s original warm-up vanished; not sure how. It’s back now. Sorry for whatever it was...and my apologies for the confusion. Luckily, the comments were preserved.]

1. #MeToo, ethics corrupter. The Kavanaugh hearing fiasco shows that #MeToo, like Black Lives Matter, has become an ethics corrupter. It has handed women the power to destroy men without fairness, proportion or due process, and because power does, in fact, corrupt, the results have been predictable. Since it involves tribal divisions and victim-mongering, Democrats have benefited from the movement, while acceding to making misandry fashionable and acceptable, just as the party embraced Black Lives Matter with its promotion of anti-white racism and the vilification of police.

Once #MeToo started being about partisan political gain rather than recognizing the serious problem of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace and elsewhere, it compromised its objectives and eroded its credibility. If Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser refuses to appear before the Judiciary Committee, her motives and those of her supporters will be in plain sight.

They should be anyway. Were it not for the news media’s near complete abdication of its duty to inform the public without regard for how facts will affect elections, Democrats would already be thoroughly exposed as hypocrites. How in the world can leaders of the Democratic Party demand a futile FBI investigation of a 30-year-old incident at a high school party while the party’s own co-chair, Keith Ellison, has been credibly accused of domestic abuse, a current, provable crime that #MeToo cares about, and he has not been suspended, investigated, or even widely criticized?

#MeToo power is also being used to censor dissent. Ian Buruma, the editor of the New York Times Review of Books has been forced to resign because he approved an essay by a #MeToo-targeted journalist who was eventually acquitted in court. His essay described how public accusations alone, without verification or confirmation, are enough to destroy a mans’s life and livelihood. “There has indeed been enough humiliation for a lifetime,” the author, Jian Ghomeshi wrote. “I cannot just move to another town and reboot with a pseudonym. I’m constantly competing with a villainous version of myself online. This is the power of a contemporary mass shaming.” The #MeToo social media mob was so outraged that it drove Burama to resign.

And he was so good at making sure almost every book review included some Trump-bashing, too! Continue reading

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The Return Of Louis C.K. For Ethics Dummies

Ick.

Reading the news media and entertainment websites, one would think that Louis C.K.’s return to stand-up comedy after nearly a year in exile or rehab or something raises ethics conundrums that would stump Plato, Kant and Mill. It’s not that hard. The fact that everyone, especially those in the entertainment field, are displaying such confusion and angst just tells us something useful about them. They don’t know how to figure out what’s right and wrong.

In case you have forgotten, cult comedy star  Louis C.K. admitted last November at the peak of the #MeToo rush that he had masturbed in front of  at least five women without their consent. Ick. His cable show and other projects were cancelled, and he disappeared from the public eye. Then, last weekend, he returned to the stage at the Comedy Cellar in New York, performed for about 15 minutes, and received a standing ovation.  This apparently alternately shocked or confused people. I’ll make it simple.

Does the comedian have a right to practice his art after the revelation of his disgusting conduct?

Of course he does. He wasn’t sentenced to prison. He has a right to try to make a living at what he does well. In fact, he has a First Amendment right to tell jokes any where others will listen to him.

OK, he technically has a right. But is it right for him to come back like nothing has happened?

What? The man was publicly shamed and humiliated. He can’t come back as if nothing has happened, because everyone knows that something has happened. Nevertheless, his art does not require the public trust. It does not demand good character, or even the absence of a criminal record. Does a great singer sound worse because he was abusive to women? No. Is there a law that says men who are abusive to women should never be able to work again? No, and there shouldn’t be. I wouldn’t hire C.K. to work in an office, because I see no reason to trust him around others. But he’s not a worker, he’s an artist. He never engaged in inappropriate conduct on stage. He can be trusted as an artist,at least when he’s performing solo.

Comedian Michael Ian Black tweeted regarding Louis C.K.that “Will take heat for this, but people have to be allowed to serve their time and move on with their lives.I don’t know if it’s been long enough, or his career will recover, or if people will have him back, but I’m happy to see him try.” For this he apologized,  saying this position was “ultimately, not defensible.” after he was broiled on social media. Should he have apologized? Continue reading

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